From time to time, students ask me to correct their mistakes. And they’re usually surprised when I politely say “no.” Why do I do that? The reason is quite simple: I want to help them improve, and there is no evidence that correcting mistakes will help.
This may come as a surprise to many people. After all, correcting mistakes is an important part of teaching and learning, isn’t it? The traditional answer is “yes, it is.” However, there is convincing evidence to suggest that it doesn’t help language learners.
Evidence from the research and the classroom
Correcting mistakes may contribute to some kinds of learning, but it doesn’t help language learners. Dr. John Truscott (Tsing Hua University, Taiwan) has spent many years studying the effectiveness of correcting grammar mistakes made when students speak and write. He has come to two simple conclusions:
- There is no evidence that correcting mistakes helps. Correction rarely, if ever, leads to permanent change.
- There is some evidence that correcting mistakes is actually harmful. Correcting mistakes makes students anxious as they try to avoid making mistakes, and anxiety makes language acquisition much more difficult.
Many experienced language teachers will agree. There is very little connection between error correction and better language. Most students will repeat the same mistakes, even after they have been corrected many times.
Why doesn’t correcting mistakes help?
Correcting mistakes is “not a good fit to the language development process” according to Dr. Truscott. New language, better language, comes from input – reading and listening – not from correcting output, or what we say and write.
Language is acquired when we understand what we read and hear. As we read and listen, our brains automatically pick up the language elements that we are ready for and adds them to what we already know. The more we read and listen, the more our language grows. The more we read and listen, the better it becomes and the more it sounds and looks like the language we want to speak and write.
If you want to understand this process better, read The Basics – seven short articles about the basic principles of language acquisition.
Correcting mistakes may make teachers feel more like teachers and students feel like students. However, there is little reason to believe that it will help you improve your English. Rather than worrying about mistakes, let the natural process of language acquisition work for you; focus on reading and listening to as much interesting and understandable English as possible.
No, I won’t correct your mistakes, but I will continue to help you find the best way possible to improve your English!
Articles by Dr. Truscott can be found on his web page at National Tsing Hua University.